Big Pine Key has wild life refuges which provide protection for and endangered animals. Any commercialism you will find on the other islands and especially on the Upper Keys, is well and truly left behind here. On Big Pine Key there is an authentic, back-country atmosphere.
As well as having a different atmosphere, Big Pine Key is physically very different to the other islands. The rest of the Upper Keys are made from a former coral reef, while Big Pine Key is made of limestone bedrock. There are lots of hardwood trees and pine trees.
The ilsand is also home to 300 tiny Key deer. These are very rare, with white tails and roam the unspoiled tropical wilderness that makes this island unique. The deer are about 30 inches tall. Mornings and evenings are when they are most active, so this is obviously the best time to spot them. If you keep your eyes peeled while driving along the main highway, you will often see them by the roadside.
The tiny deer have been made small from thousands of years living on the island. People often mistake them for dogs - they are only knee high. They can also swim easily between islands. They have little fear of man, as shown by their mainland cousins, so will not run away as quickly when humans approach.
The speed on the road approaching the National Key Deer Refuge changes from 45 miles per hour to 30 miles per hour, MM29-MM33 - so you know when to look out for the deer.
Instead of stopping along a busy section of the highway, it is recommended that you travel to the north end of Key Deer Boulevard or to the east end of Watson Boulevard on No Name Key. This area is part of the National Key Deer Refuge and offers safe viewing.
There is (apparently) a deer sanctuary information centre on Big Pine Key. We put the address into our sat nav, and despite driving around the area for about 20 minutes, we failed to find it. Instead the sat nav kept bringing us back to a shopping area and we could not find anything relating to the information centre.